Is Belief in an A.D.70 Rapture of the Church Fact or Fiction?


by Mark Mountjoy

Introductory Remarks

Surveying the Preterist landscape reveals, in many cases, a continuation of conventional beliefs which were inculcated in us when we were Futurists. Among these, the belief in the Rapture of the Church finds itself relocated from a futurist expectation to a Preterist reality, but in either case, is it fact or fiction?

Is 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 a Stand-alone Text?

The belief in a Rapture of the Church comes principly from Paul's discussion in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, which reads,

"But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.  For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.  For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep.  For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.  Wherefore comfort one another with these words."

 

Paul, in this well-known texts, assured the Thessalonian Christians that Jesus would resurrect the dead in Christ first, and then evacuate all Christians up into the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. The passage entertains no other thing and offers no alternative than the expectation that the entire pre-A.D.70 Church would disappear into glory, soon and very soon.

Confirmation of this expectation can also be deduced from what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:50-52:--

"Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed."

The above two passages present the picture of a complete and total evacuation of the Christian church from the earth at the time of the Lord's return. But is there anything else? What about an evacuation of Jerusalem and Judæan Christians to the mountains at the time of the Parousia? (Matthew 24:15-18). It reads,

"When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place (whoso readeth, let him understand:) Then let them which be in Judæa flee into the mountains: let him which is on the housetop not come down to take any thing out of his house: neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes."

Jesus' instructions in the Matthean text do not envision the Jerusalem escaping by air, but by foot. Is there a contradiction here, or is this issue more detailed and complicated than the two texts of 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 and 1 Corinthians 15:50-52 would seem to suggest? I believe it is!

Revelation Chapter 12 Speaks of the Jerusalem Church!

As if to echo what Jesus said about the Abomination of Desolation in Matthew 24:15, Revelation 11:1-2 seems to posit the fall of Jerusalem into the hands of the Zealots as directly preceding the Jerusalem church's flight to safety (Revelation 12:6 and 14). But note two amazing things:

(1) In Revelation 12:1 the Church is spoken of in GLOWING TERMS . . .

"And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars . . ."

(2) In Revelation 12:2, she is heavy with child and pained to be delivered. . .

"And she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered."

(3) In Revelation 12:3-4 Satan wishes to consume her soon-be-born offspring upon its arrival. . .

" And there appeared another wonder in heaven; and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads.

And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth: and the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born."

(4) Upon its birth the woman's child is thereupon caught up to God's throne . . .

"And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto God, and to his throne" (Revelation 12:5).

(5) Now, the woman, who was not depicted as "sinful" or at any fault, but crowned with celestial glory FORFEITS HER SON TO HEAVEN WHILE SHE FLEES TO THE WILDERNESS FOR THE DURATION OF THE WAR. . .

"6 And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and threescore days" (Revelation 12:6) and again,

"And when the dragon saw that he was cast unto the earth, he persecuted the woman which brought forth the man child.

14 And to the woman were given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness, into her place, where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent. And the serpent cast out of his mouth water as a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away of the flood.

And the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed up the flood which the dragon cast out of his mouth. And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ" (Revelation 12:13-17).

Let's sum up we have observed:

(1) Paul expected a catching up in two places (1 Thess 4 and 1 Cor. 15).

(2) Jesus expected an evacuation BY FOOT from Jerusalem at the time of his Parousia.

(3) A Church described in glowing terms, faced the loss of her new-born son at a time concomitant to the Zealot Abomination of Desolation and lost her son, not to Satan on earth, but to God's throne, above.

And, finally,

(4) The woman, who is evidently precious, FLED ON FOOT TO A WILDERNESS for the duration of a FOUR YEAR WAR (Revelation 12:6 and 14 cf. Revelation 11:2 and 13:5).

In the end, we do not see the entire Christian church leave at the time of "critical mass" in the mystery of iniquity, BUT SOME ASPECT OF IT WAS CAUGHT UP. We do NOT see a wicked church doomed to hide from the face of the dragon, but a church evidently approved, but not chosen to leave.

Furthermore, we have at our disposal, reputable reports of the Church's stay at a Transjordan town named Pella:-

"The people of the Church in Jerusalem were commanded by an oracle given by revelation before the war to those in the city who were worthy of it to depart and dwell in one of the cities of Perea which they called Pella. To it those who believed on Christ traveled from Jerusalem, so that when holy men had altogether deserted the royal capital of the Jews and the whole land of Judæa…"—( Eusebius, Church History 3, 5, 3)

From the description of the Church in Revelation 12:1, there appears to be no reason to conclude that an evil illegitimate Church was left behind and that every that was holy and good and right was whisked away into the clouds. Even the passage of Revelation 12 speaks of the woman TAKING FLIGHT BY THE WINGS OF AN EAGLE--NOT TO HEAVEN BUT, APPARENTLY TO HER HIDING PLACE SOMEWHERE IN JUDÆA!

My final observation will come from Revelation 20 where the Christian church, which had survived the First Great Revolt is STILL described in GLOWING TERMS--

"Now when the thousand years have expired, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle, whose number is as the sand of the sea. They went up on the breadth of the earth and surrounded the CAMP of the SAINTS and the BELOVED CITY" (Revelation 20:7-9).

The Jewish historian, Gedaliah Alon, wrote that the Roman emperor, Hadrian (AD 117-138), took notice of this church when he visited Jerusalem in AD 130:

“Another early Christian chronicler, Alexander the Monk, writing probably around the middle of the ninth century, says: ‘When (Hadrian) went to the Holy City and saw it in ruins, except for one small Christian church, he gave orders that the whole city be rebuilt, save for the temple. When the Jews heard of this they streamed thither from every direction, and before long the whole city was rebuilt. But once again an evil spirit entered into them and agitated them, and they rebelled against Rome. They set over themselves a commander called Bar Kokhba’” (The Jews in Their Land in the Talmudic Age [AD 70-640], 1980, p. 446; quoting from Alexander Monachus, De Inventione Sanctae Crucis, p. 87, III, 4044-4045, published in 1620).[1]

There you have it!  This investigation questions the wisdom of a so-called universal Rapture that supposedly took the "good" Christians and left the "bad" ones behind.  But nothing in the Revelation text actually demands a unilateral disappearance of Christians at any point along a continuum of time that reached from the 60s of the first century, to the 30's of the second century.  Regardless of where (on earth or in heaven) God's heart and God's love appears steadfast for his people, with or without perfect understanding of prophetic times or seasons.

Conclusion

Looking broadly at the issue of the Rapture and the supposed unworthiness or sinfulness of those not caught up to God's throne, it seems unwise to say that it was a universal one that left the earth bereft of good Christians. The very fact that the Church is described in approving terms, yet did not get to "go" and her son, freshly born escaped to avoid instant destruction--and the fact that as late as the third decade of the second century, the Jerusalem church was STILL considered by God precious (saintly AND "beloved") suggests to us that the doctrine that the Church ended in A.D.70 because of evil or was left behind on account of being unworthy is a FALSE and WRONG-HEADED IDEA. Furthermore, that the surviving Christian Church, even under the evil government of Simon Bar Kokhba was still seen as a possession to be protected against the multitudes of Gog, puts a lie to the idea that the historic Christian church, which is a direct descendant of the Bar Kokhba imbroglio whether or not they ever acknowledge or become aware of realized eschatology. The continuity of God's favor upon the Christians through the apocalyptic cycle of events means Christianity, even with its human errors and foibles, is an enterprise loved by God intended by God and destined to continue, world without end (Ephesians 3:21).

Note

[1] Source: https://adammaarschalk.com/…/the-1000-years-and-the-two-wa…/